Ecotourism defined in general terms is travelling responsibly to places that promote conservation of the environment and protection of natural habitats. Ecotourism is a global fast growth area of tourism which is growing at a rate of more than 20% annually – more than twice the average growth of the entire global tourism industry.
“Sustainable tourism has proven to be one of the most effective ways of providing economic and employment opportunities for local communities while protecting the world’s natural resources,” said Taleb Rifai, WTO’s Secretary-General.
“For many people, there is an attitude of “we had better see it while it is still there to see” when it comes to visiting threatened forests or endangered wildlife,” said Patrick Durst, a senior forestry official with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), working in Asia.
It is not a new idea to use eco-tourism to help build capacity in poor communities in the developing world, it should be more about creating a new way to protect our natural environment, create source of livelihood for people and fight poverty in an effective but sustainable manner. This will create a chain of community infrastructures which tourists and visitors have access to and the money generated from these infrastructures stays in the community and help them grow.
Nigeria is blessed with diverse eco-systems, ranging from coastal mangrove swamps and tropical rainforest along the Atlantic coast in the south with rivers flowing into the Lagos lagoon and the Atlantic. Unknown too many, the corridor bordering the Atlantic Ocean in Lagos is richly endowed with resources and areas set aside for environmental conservation such as wildlife sanctuaries, forest reserves and protected wetland.
It is pathetic that numerous efforts to ensure that sustainable tourism practices are being implemented to bring benefits for wetlands, their wildlife, and people. We would emphasise that tourism business, if well informed and prepared to adapt their operations, can certainly promote and support wetland biodiversity and the natural beauty of wetlands.
The Rural Beach tourism industry in the Lekki and Badagry axis is an example of the success of eco-tourism in Lagos. Although the impact might be minimal for now, but participatory decision making in alleviating poverty through sustainable tourism will cause an Improvement on this developmental strategy and will certainly increase net economic gain to coastal people and the Lagos State Government. It will be worthy of note that when local inhabitants are made to understand the economic benefits of protecting nature and their environment as a way of bringing economic development to their community, it will be an easy task for the government to develop infrastructures that promotes eco-tourism.
The experience from this initiative will be useful in designing a standard community based tourism agenda for other coastal villages in the state and other states planning eco-tourism and bio-diversity conservation programmes.
Deliberate destruction of this unique expanse of pristine forest with natural habitat for the conservation of biodiversity, nature and diverse ecological landscapes in this region is at the trend which is alarming does not paint the country, especially Lagos, in good colours in the community of tourist destinations.
Blending environmental endowments such as beaches, pristine forest and lakes with its rich and diverse cultural heritage into development projects helps bring closer to the people an experience of modernism or civilisation as many analysts may describe it, but including petrochemical plants and related businesses in the designated tourism zone in the Lekki peninsula axis of Lagos State is like repeating the environmental disasters of the Niger Delta.
In as much as the development initiatives are evidence of progress in economic development, it is a pointer in the direction of environmental degradation and destruction of natural habitats which will be at the receiving end of toxic wastes from the petrochemical plants in the Lekki Free Trade Zone. Toxic waste management is an important area that should be carefully planned because the livelihood of the inhabitants of these areas are dependent on the environment whose major occupations include fishing, farming boat building and other crafts which major raw material source are products of the immediate natural ecosystem.
It is a good initiative that the beaches along the Lekki Peninsular axis are designated as tourism zone with a number of planned beach resorts, also promoted as eco-tourism. An unexplainable part of these development projects is the fact that this so-called “eco-tourism” is always grouped together with petrochemical industry in the different development plans of Lagos State.
The concept of eco-tourism is not yet understood or is it being redefined by the Lagos State Government and its consultants? Eco-tourism cannot develop as long as petrochemical industry is located by its side. This is found in the masterplan of the Lagos Free Trade Zone and also interestingly mentioned by Ibukun Akin Fakeye, the managing director of the Lakowe Luxury Golf resort in an interview with Caterina Bortolussi (Italian designer and media consultant). As an international attraction complementing his planned Lekki Golf Beach resort, he wants to build a Techno Park.
A Techno Park is a knowledge-based complex and home for IT companies, petrochemical research, medical research and service-based industry, and also provides eco-tourism opportunities where people study the environment and find means of protecting, preserving and maintaining it. We want to make sure that the community in which we are operating is not left damaged.
The Golf resort, also known as “Lakowe Lakes Golf Resort,” is located just off the Lekki-Epe Expressway, the only major highway that will service a future airport and seaport.
Volumes can be written about the Niger Delta environmental pollution due to petroleum exploration which has caused the damages and loss of diverse ecological and geographical landscapes of this region, in the form of rivers, creeks, pristine mangrove forests, wet lands, beaches and marine ecosystems. Had it been there have been a working framework for the preservation of the environment in those areas which nature have provided more than adequate bounties for tourism development.
It will be a slap on the face of our generation if we fail to protect and conserve nature at the expense of cheap economic gains in the light of the numerous global examples in the field of environmental protection and knowledge nature conservation.
By Ajibola Oseni